It’s impossible to review Dark Places without mentioning Gillian Flynn’s astonishingly successful novel Gone Girl. Who hasn’t heard of Gone Girl by now? It’s spawned a run of thrillers with a twist and the movie tie in that followed was a critical and commercial success.
With this in mind, it was difficult to start Dark Places without hoping for another Gone Girl. In retrospect, it doesn’t disappoint yet it doesn’t quite live up to what was perhaps my too high expectations.
Dark Places is one of Flynn’s novels that was published before Gone Girl and has recently come into the public eye again with the inevitable release of an accompanying movie. The film feels to me like a rush release to cash in on the success of its predecessor and perhaps this is why it has failed to live up to the hype. Then again, was there even any hype? Being a keen film buff, I wasn’t even aware of the movie being made and was surprised to find out about its theatrical release. The film appeared to come out to little press or media attention. Poor reviews followed and it seemed to disappear quietly after even poorer box office takings, despite an impressive cast that included Charlize Theron and Christina Hendricks. I have yet to see the film and I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to watch it now after reading the novel.
Home is where the lies are…
The story revolves around Libby Day, who is just seven years old when her family is brutally murdered. Her testimony puts her fifteen year old brother Ben in jail. The novel opens in the present day when Libby is contacted by a group who believe that Ben is innocent. The group persuade Libby to reinvestigate Ben’s case and the events surrounding her family’s deaths.
The title Dark Places is apt. Everything about this story is dark – the setting, the visual imagery, the themes and the characters. In fact, it’s hard to describe this novel as an enjoyable read, particularly because of some of the more violent aspects of the book. It’s difficult to mention too much without giving anything away, but murder and Satanic rituals are central aspects to the story. I’m not normally squeamish and I watch plenty of gory television shows and films, but some of the more disturbing scenes were described so vividly that it almost turned my stomach. This makes me question just how graphic the film might be and so I’m not rushing to see it just yet.
The novel unfolds as a mystery as two timelines run parallel with each other – the present day and the fateful day of the murders. Sometimes flashbacks and conflicting timelines can be confusing in novels, but here the timelines are straightforward and didn’t take me out of the story. The novel also explores other characters’ perspectives which tells us more about the mysteries within the story. The contrasting timelines actually worked really well together and offer a glimpse of how different things could have been for the characters if they had made other decisions and also provides an insight into the woman Libby has become in the present day. This highlights the central premise of how one action can alter the course of someone’s life and how you live with those consequences.
There is an element of sadness in the story as the characters’ circumstances are so devastating. Poverty and debt are huge issues raised in the novel and lead to many desperate acts. Could the matriarchal figure Patty Day be described as a victim of circumstances or just plain weak? There is a certain amount of despair for the Day family and the novel raises questions about just how far one might go to protect or even betray family as well as exploring issues of forgiveness.
I wouldn’t describe any of the characters in the novel as particularly likeable, but that’s what makes a character so compelling. Nice can be overrated. One of the most fascinating characters ever created is Hannibal Lecter and Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar winning cinematic portrayal was well deserved, although the less said about the risible sequel, the better. The character of Diondra in the novel is a vicious vile person, but such a strong character provides much of the conflict in the story.
Overall, Dark Places is an interesting read. I enjoyed the quirky Kill Club and reading about farming amidst the Kansas setting. If you don’t mind gory violence and coarse language and you like a good mystery, then Dark Places is worth reading.
If you’ve read the book, let me know what you think. Have you seen the film and how does it compare to Gone Girl? Have you read any of Flynn’s other novels? I’d love to hear your opinion. Get in touch!